The power of the intangible

Some guy told me a joke the other day…

Apparently a shy Norwegian fisherman was trying to woo the girl of his dreams. He managed to pluck up the courage and secure a date with her, but worried that conversation will quickly dry up, went to a wise elder to get some tips.  The elder fixed him with a glassy stare. “Talk of three things only and the girl will be all yours,“ he said, sagely. “Start with fish, move on to family and end with philosophy.”

The next night the fisherman picked up the girl and they sat in awkward silence all the way to the restaurant.  They took their seat and as they flicked through the menu, the fisherman asked: “So, do you like fish?

The girl looked at him. “No,” she said and went back to flicking through the menu.

Beads of sweat started to form on the fisherman’s brow. He steadied himself and asked: “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“No,” the girl said.

According to the guy, the fisherman blushed and looks down at his menu. His mind was racing; he’s spent months admiring this girl and now he was ruining any chance he had of making her his girlfriend. Seconds passed that felt like hours. Philosophy was his only hope now. He took a deep breath, looked the girl in the eye and asked: “Well if you had a brother, would he like fish?”

I laughed, but there was something about the neatness of the joke that worried me. Thousands of hours of introspection, volumes of dusty tomes all wrapped up in a mildly amusing sentence. This is what whole areas of philosophy could effectively be boiled down to; the inconsequential pondering of intangible things with no real application.

It makes you think; what does it matter if Descartes’ devil robbed us of any real epistemic knowledge, that Satre’s nausea stole our meaning.  Are we brains floating in a vat? Who cares? And why should they?  If we can never know the answer, why should we bother asking the question in the first place? Whole lives and reputations reduced to fruitless intellectual masturbation.- paradigm shifting ideas that change nothing. It’s like realising a horror movie is just pictures on a screen.

But the lack of consequence results in freedom; a liberty of thought and a license to think as you please. The wastelands of philosophy are certainly fertile, and it may just be the case that the process of thought, the questions and the debate are just as important as the answer (or lack thereof). And so, with all this in mind I ask: if you had a brother, would he like fish?

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